Understanding Your Baby's Quirks
My baby smells so good. What's her secret?
Two words: no sweat. The apocrine glands -- which are found in the armpits, breasts, and groin and are associated with strong body odor -- aren't active until puberty. Another reason she smells so good to you may be because her scent is familiar. Each of us has our own odor print, explains George Preti, PhD, a chemist who studies human body odor at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, in Philadelphia. Moms have been known to recognize their newborn by scent alone. One theory for this phenomenon: Olfactory cues from her baby may be circulating in Mom's bloodstream during gestation, giving her an early exposure.
What's the deal with toe-sucking?
Your little one learns about the objects around her by putting them in her mouth. Nerve fibers in the mouth are more sensitive than those in the fingers, so babies can experience many wonderful touch sensations when they suck on their body parts, says Ross Thompson, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of California-Davis. While babies love to suck anything they can get their lips on -- toys, the remote -- many 4- and 5-month-olds find it easy to put their feet in their mouth simply because babies are so flexible.
Why do nails grow so fast?
Your baby's nails are growing twice as fast as your own. Children's metabolic rate is higher than that of adults so their skin cells (which make up nails) turn over more quickly, says Bernard Cohen, MD, director of pediatric dermatology at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, in Baltimore.
Do all newborns startle as much as mine does?
All healthy newborns are born with an evolutionarily programmed, involuntary impulse called the Moro reflex. So if your baby is startled by the sound of a pot clanking or a siren, for instance, he'll fling his arms wide, spread his fingers, then grab instinctively -- for Mom, of course. Then he'll bring his arms back to his body and relax. "Newborns haven't learned to differentiate between common and uncommon noises," says Richard Polin, MD, director of the division of neonatology at Columbia University Medical Center, in New York City. As your little one matures, his brain learns to distinguish sounds and movements and suppresses this primitive reflex.
Why does my baby hit or scratch at a picture in a book?
She's used to seeing things in 3-D, says Sue Hespos, PhD, director of the Infant Cognition Lab at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois, so she doesn't know what to do with a 2-D picture. Keep reading to her and marvel as her cognitive skills develop.
Case of the Hiccups
What's up with all the hiccups?
Experts don't understand why hiccups occur and what to do about them. What you need to know: They aren't harmful or uncomfortable for your baby (though they may freak you out), and they go away on their own.
Why does my baby thump his head on the bed when he's trying to go to sleep?
It's simply his way of lulling himself to sleep, says Tanya Remer Altmann, MD, a pediatrician in Westlake Village, California. The thumping may be scary to you, but it's usually nothing to worry about. Studies show that up to 15 percent of healthy children do it, and it's three times more common in boys. It typically starts when babies are around 8 months old; only 5 percent of children continue to do it for more than a few months. If a child head-bangs after his first birthday, experiences a language delay, and avoids eye contact, talk to your pediatrician.
Every time I give my baby her bottle, she wraps her little fingers around mine. What's going on?
It's her way of showing you the love. Starting at 3 or 4 months, your baby is able to hold onto your fingers, and she may do it every chance she gets. She also gets a kick out of hearing your voice, so another great way to bond is to talk or sing to her.
What's the reason for all the drooling?
Infants have an immature nervous system, and they don't have as much motor control of their mouth as older kids and adults, says Eve Colson, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at Yale University School of Medicine, in New Haven. The dribbling typically lessens by the end of their first year.
My newborn looks like a frog when she sleeps. What's going on?
During the first month or two of life, your baby's arms, legs, elbows, and knees are bent when she snoozes, much as they were in the womb. As her nervous system matures, her legs will straighten and she'll sleep in a looser position, says Dr. Polin.
Why does my baby love peekaboo?
For the giggles! But don't bother playing before she's 6 months old because she won't be able to pay attention long enough to enjoy the fun, says Dr. Thompson.
So Many Sneezes
Why does my baby sneeze all the time?
Since he's too young to blow his nose, the only way he can get rid of mucus, dust, and other irritants stuck in his schnoz is to sneeze, says Dr. Polin. Worried all those achoos might signal an illness? Don't fret unless your baby has a fever or trouble eating.
Originally published in the July 2009 issue of Parents magazine.
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